By RON FANFAIR
In the best of times, Lakay Caribbean restaurant in Scarborough is a meeting place for Haitian nationals and their friends in the Greater Toronto Area to socialize and share stories about their youthful days growing up in the world’s oldest Black republic.
Ever since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti nine days ago, the restaurant has turned into a makeshift drop-off centre for cash donations that are being sent to the Canadian Red Cross and a gathering place for Haitians to pray and network in an attempt to find out if missing relatives are dead or alive.
Soline Auguste is among the thousands of Haitians in Canada still holding hope for family members they have been unable to contact since the deadly earthquake hit the impoverished country.
She has not heard from a brother who was teaching at a Port-au-Prince school and her mother and sister who were in Leogane – a port town nearly 18 miles west of the Haitian capital – where 90 per cent of the buildings were destroyed.
“I spoke with my little brother who told me that he and two of my other brothers made it out alive,” Auguste, who also lost several uncles and aunts, told Share at a fundraiser last Sunday at Lakay. “Time is running out and I am very worried about the rest of my family.”
Auguste is not alone.
Desir Buramena received good news late last week that her nine-year-old daughter – Ruphma Mouis – was still alive. The bad news is that she has been unable to speak with her and she doesn’t know what her status is.
“It’s a helpless feeling,” said Buramena. “I was told that the building she was in collapsed and everybody died, except my daughter. I just want to talk to her to know that she’s fine. That’s all I am asking for now.”
Murat Exilus, an operations assistant in provincial Minister Margarett Best’s Health Promotion ministry, was still at work when he heard the grim news.
“A friend called me to say that something bad had happened in Haiti,” said Exilus who migrated three decades ago. “I thought it was a joke, but when I turned on the TV, I realized that this was really terrible.”
Exilus, who is also Best’s chauffeur, said the minister was very emotional on the drive home a few hours after the catastrophe.
“It was the first time that I really saw that side of her,” he said. “She kept asking me every few minutes if I was O.K. You could see and sense her concern. Normally, the drive from downtown to her residence takes about an hour. That night, it seemed to me that it was about six long hours. As we got closer to her home, the minister told me that we had to do something for Haiti.”
Best and Exilus, who has not heard from two cousins in Port-au-Prince since the quake, were the prime organizers of last Sunday’s fundraiser for the Canadian Red Cross.
“I have been to this restaurant on a few occasions to play dominoes and meet some of the wonderful people of Haiti who now make Canada their home,” said Best. “We have to show solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Haiti and show them that we care.”
Lakay’s co-owner Sheyla Cadet-Walker was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support.
“I am glad that Haiti has so many friends and that we are in a country like Canada where there are so many people showing generosity and compassion. It will however take many efforts like this to help Haiti get back on its feet.”
Scarborough-Guildwood Member of Parliament John McKay, Scarborough East councilor Ron Moeser, Shouters Spiritual Baptist Archbishop Deloris Seivright, former Canadian ambassador to the Dominican Republic Alvin Curling and Haiti’s honorary Consul General Dr. Eric Pierre attended the fundraiser.
“Haitians suffering does not go back five days or five years in which time we have witnessed seven calamities,” Pierre said. “The suffering has been continuous and it has been brought about by a systemic crime caused by the high level of poverty and indignity in that country. Long after the cameras are gone and the media spotlight is turned off, we will still be required to show compassion and solidarity with these people.
“I belong to a generation that has been traumatized and we don’t want to perpetuate this any longer. It’s therefore imperative that we give the young children a chance and you also contribute to any creditable organization of your choice. Give something and give until it hurts because those people in Haiti are hurting a great deal.”
The Caribbean consul corps in Toronto and several community organizations have organized relief initiatives for Haiti.
The Caribbean diplomats are encouraging nationals to make donations through Pierspective Entraide Humanitaire (PEH), a registered Canadian charity established by the Haitian Consulate and community in Ontario. Donations can be made to TD Canada Trust, Account # 5203333, Branch # 1096, or by sending cheques to 902 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario M5R 3G3. Cheques can also be sent via the individual consulates and they will be forwarded to PEH.
The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) is also accepting financial and other donations for the Haiti earthquake relief effort. Those who wish to make a monetary contribution may donate on-line at www.jcassoc.org by clicking on the “Donate Now-through Canada Helps.org” button or mail/drop-off cheques to the JCA office at 995 Arrow Road, North York Ontario, M9M 2Z5. In addition, the JCA will be accepting water, non-perishable food items and new clothing from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
A fundraising concert will be held on Friday, January 29, starting at 7:00 p.m. at the JCA. Featured artists include Tanya Mullings, Devon Irie, Marcia Brown, Owen “Blakka” Ellis, Letna Allen Rowe, Mr. Cooper and Kay Morris. All of the proceeds will be donated to Haiti relief efforts.